Former Limerick FC striker Derek McCarthy puts the Jordan U-23s through their paces before a recent game in the Asian U23 Football Championships in China
LAST May, Ardpatrick, Co Limerick, native Derek McCarthy answered a query from a football acquaintance on Linkedin.
The message was about a role working with the Jordan U-23 soccer side who were looking to qualify for the Asian U-23 championships in China.
Always keen to broaden his football experiences, the 37-year-old former Limerick FC striker jumped at the opportunity to move to the Middle East. However, nothing from his previous experience in football could have prepared him for what lay ahead.
You spent time at Blackburn Rovers when Sam Allardyce was there?
Derek McCarthy: “Yes, in 2008 I went to England. I was studying Sports Science in UL and part of that was do 9-month placement at Blackburn Rovers.
“Sam Allardyce was manager at Blackburn then, we all trained in senior ground.
“Irish internationals Keith Andrews and Steven Reid were there then. As well as the likes of Roque Santa Cruz, Míchel Salgado, while Neil McDonald, who recently left Limerick FC as manager, was the assistant manager at Blackburn.
“After the placement was up, Blackburn asked me to stay on and work full-time with the reserve team as their fitness coach. I then finished my studies in England at the University of Cumbria.
“I also worked at Preston as first team fitness coach, but that ended when Phil Brown got sacked as manager”
“I also worked with a sports college team, Myerscough and did a masters in sports science at the University of Central Lancashire. I made a decision to come back to Ireland in 2014 after Preston. I then spent three years with Limerick FC.
“Stuart Taylor offered me role as first team fitness coach with Limerick in 2014, 2015 and 2016. When that ended I went working with Limerick FC's U-17s, something I was anxious to do,. I've done up to UEFA B with my coaching badges.”
How did the opportunity to go to Jordan come about?
D McC: "In April of last year, I got a Linkedin message from the former reserve team manager at Blackburn, Ian Brunskill. He was looking for me to come out and work with the Jordan U-23 squad who were preparing to qualify for the Asian Cup in China in January.
"We had a qualification tournament for that last July in Palestine. He was out there at that stage already. I joined him in May
"The first question I asked Ian, the manager, was what the political situation in Jordan like? Jordan is a strange in that it doesn't have any oil, no real wealth from that point of view.
"It is out of the conflict as such even though it is surrounded by conflict. Every country that borders Jordan is in conflict.
“You have the issues with Syria to the north, Israel to the west, you have Egypt to the south and Saudi Arabia and Iraq to the east.
"Jordan is extremely peaceful. You have the hustle and bustle of a markets with a lot of horns being beeped which might have you a bit on edge, drivers don't always abide by the rules of the road, but you never feel in danger from a security point of view.
“I lived in a hotel in Amman, five minutes away from the Football Federation.
“My first ever training session, I normally take the first half an hour with some passing drills and basic movement. The manager takes over then and some of the players start praying because they need to say their prayers before a certain time. It's not something we see in Europe and it takes getting used to.”
Your qualifying tournament was in Palestine?
"When we went into Palestine it was extremely difficult for us to get through. It should have taken us about two hours to get from the capital of Jordan into Bethlehem where we were staying and it took eight hours.
“Israel control the border and they just kept stopping us. We were held up. That was the hottest time of the year, middle of July.
“I probably would have had an empathy towards Palestine before I went out there, but that cemented even more so during my time out there.
"On the Friday we played Palestine in our qualifying game, we were in the hotel and we were told there was going to be protests outside the because there was an issue over closing synagogues in Jerusalem.
"Our team hotel was along that wall that separates Bethlehem and Jerusalem. I'm not sure how wise it was to position us there.
“People were being peppered with tear gas, water cannons, rocks. This went on for five or six hours outside our hotel. It was crazy, like. We were playing Palestine that evening. We thought the game would be called off.
"The game went ahead. We were 2-0 up before losing 3-2, but I do feel that a little bit of it was connected to the incidents of earlier in the day.
“Israel couldn't meet Palestine in tournaments. There were so many teams we couldn't play for political reasons that Asian Federation. It's pre-ordained.
“We were with Bangladesh, Tajikistan, and Palestine. We qualified as runners-up having been beaten by Palestine for the tournament in China.
"We did have some very good players. The majority of them were based in Jordan. They would be earning a good living compared to the ordinary worker's. Quite a lot of them are students.
"One of our players moved clubs during the time we were in China for the finals. He moved to a Kuwaiti club and I think he was earning something like $20,000 a week.”
The Asian U-23 Championships were in Changshu in China last month?
"The group in China had Saudi Arabia in it, who we drew with 2-2. We were 2-0 up and conceded two late goals. We played Malaysia next expecting to beat them, but our centre forward, who had scored the two goals against Saudi kicked a water bottle after the Saudi game.
“The bottle flies through the air and hits an official and cuts him above the head. Our player deservedly got a two-match ban and a hefty fine. We missed him for the Malaysia game which we drew 1-1.
“We needed to beat Iraq in the last game, but we ended up losing 1-0 to them, so we went out. It was a disappointment. We had aspirations of getting to the quarter-finals.”
DEREK McCarthy's time working with the Jordan U-23s finished last month.
He says he would love to continue working in football either in Ireland or abroad.